The Awareness Series: Anxiety Disorders

In all likelihood, many of you will be familiar with it too, whether through personal experience or someone you know, even whether you were aware of it or not. Anxiety disorders are very common, so it’s important you educate yourself about what having an anxiety disorder means, for your own sake, your loved ones, and the sake of others in your community.

I decided to begin my mental disorder awareness series with a disorder I am personally familiar with. In all likelihood, many of you will be familiar with it too, whether through personal experience or someone you know, even whether you were aware of it or not. Anxiety disorders are very common, so it’s important you educate yourself about what having an anxiety disorder means, for your own sake, your loved ones, and the sake of others in your community.

To start, I’m going to clear up a commonly confused interpretation of anxiety. Anxiety is the feeling of anticipation and worry over a future threat, as is perceived by the individual. Everybody experiences this. Feeling anxiety is not exclusive to individuals who have anxiety disorders. During an extremely stressful time, you may experience very intense anxiety, which is normal, and real, and should be attended to. For people with anxiety disorders, however, anxiety plays a more impactful role in their lives. What makes an anxiety disorder a disorder is, surprise surprise, disordered anxiety – anxiety which is excessive, persistent, and having a negative impact on an individuals life or functioning. It most often is brought on by an interaction between genetics and life events, experiences, or learning.

Some don’t understand how anxiety works, which leads to misunderstanding. It’s not as simple as just calming down, or taking some deep breaths, or telling yourself that what’s causing the anxiety isn’t worth feeling anxious about.


The Brain and Anxiety:

Inappropriate Threat Perception:

The fight-or-flight response exists to prepare you to face a threat. A threat is something that could cause you harm. Something that is dangerous. This response prepares you to either fight off an attack to defend yourself or to escape to save yourself. In people with anxiety disorders, this response is activated for things that are not actually a threat. For example in social anxiety disorder, one may be anxious and afraid of calling the doctors to the point that their fight-or-flight response is activated. This shouldn’t happen because calling the doctors doesn’t pose any risk or danger – calling the doctor can’t injure or kill you.

Brain Activity in Anxiety:

In the brain, when we perceive something we think is a threat to us, our amygdala (the center of our brain which controls our emotions and survival instincts) gets notified to send us into this ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. In people without anxiety disorders, this should be shut down if what was deemed threatening is realised to not actually pose you any risk, this is processed by your prefrontal cortex (your major logic and thinking region). Your prefrontal cortex then can communicate with your amygdala and stop the anxious response.

In the brains of people who have anxiety, however, scans show that there is lower than normal activity in the prefrontal cortex, and elevated activity in the amygdala. This means that the prefrontal cortex isn’t recognising that the perceived ‘threat’ isn’t a real threat, so it’s not communicating with the amygdala to get it to shut down the fight-or-flight response. This leaves the amygdala to be over-activated, maintaining the feeling of anxiety even if it is a disproportionate reaction.

Chemical Role in Anxiety:

A chemical in our brain called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) also plays a role in regulating our anxiety. When GABA binds to its specialised structures in the brain it lowers brain activity by reducing the electrical impulses. When we experience anxiety, GABA gets released as part of a cycle to prevent prolonged anxiety by reducing electrical activity in the amygdala, allowing, essentially, for you to relax. In people with anxiety disorders, there is overexposure to the stress hormone cortisol due to prolonged and excessive stimulation of the fight-or-flight response. This exposure to cortisol eventually results in a break down of these specialised structures in the hippocampus (a brain area involved in memory and emotion, part of the anxiety regulatory system) that GABA binds to. These structures are required for GABA to carry out its function. Fewer of these structures means less GABA can take effect. This means when you have an anxiety disorder, activation of the fight-or-flight response doesn’t get turned off as quickly as in someone without an anxiety disorder, and their anxiety isn’t as regulated, because this chemical in the brain has less opportunity to take effect.



There exists a variety of treatment options available for those who suffer anxiety.

  • Different prescription drugs exist that can improve chemical functioning. They can relieve excess exposure to cortisol, allowing broken down structures in your brain to rebuild so that GABA can work properly. Some increase the functioning of other beneficial chemicals that improve anxiety symptoms such as serotonin. Doctors work with you to ensure they work well for you individually and are appropriate. The use of medication is better paired with therapy to treat the root cause as well.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you change the way you think, so you no longer perceive inappropriate things as threatening.
  • Therapy can also equip you with the tools you need to cope with bouts of anxiety so that it doesn’t have as much impact.

Symptoms and Different Anxiety Disorders:

While I can’t cover all anxiety disorders in this article, keep in mind that anxiety disorders share anxiety as a symptom, and ‘anxitey’ presents its own umbrella of symptoms that are common among the different types. The main differentiation between anxiety disorders is the stimulus that triggers anxious symptoms. For all disorders, for clinical diagnostic criteria to be met, symptoms must cause the individual significant distress and impair functioning or impact their life. If you or someone you know is being affected by anxiety, it’s worth taking some action to get on top of it, treatment really does help.

Different disorders have different criteria, their own extra symptoms, and their own different and specific triggers of the anxiety which differentiate them. Here are some of the more common anxiety disorders:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder:

As is suggested by the name, Generalised Anxiety relates to anxiety which doesn’t have a specific trigger, and can arise from little or no provocation. According to the current diagnostic criteria, Generalised Anxiety involves excessive anxiety and worry that is difficult to control and lasts most days for six or more months.

The anxiety and worry lead to three or more of the symptoms below:

  • Restlessness
  • Easily tired
  • Concentration issues, experiencing ‘mind blanks’
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble with sleep


Panic attacks and Anxiety:

Panic attacks are a very real and terrifying experience for some who suffer anxiety disorders. Symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks may be similar, however, during a panic attack, the symptoms are significantly more intense. These symptoms may include:

  • Overwhelming fear
  • Racing heart
  • Rapid breathing
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling of choking
  • Fear of death
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself and/or your surroundings
  • Chills or hot flashes

Anxiety may build up gradually to exhibit some of these symptoms as a response to a stressor. Panic attacks often occur without provocation or warning, although they can also occur as a response to a stressor as well. Because of the severity of these symptoms during a panic attack, unlike anxiety, the experience may feel like a medical emergency, resulting in the fear of death or of losing control.

Phobic Disorders:

Phobic disorders are anxiety disorders where there is a specific thing, whether it be an object or situation, that the person responds to as a threat, even though it doesn’t pose any danger. In phobias, people go out of their way to avoid encountering their fear. If they are exposed to their fear, they feel extreme discomfort and anxiety which may result in a panic attack.

Examples of phobias include agoraphobia and social anxiety/social phobia, and some common and more well-known triggers such as snakes, spiders, blood, and needles.


Agoraphobia is often thought to be a fear of leaving the home or being outside, and while this can be a part of agoraphobia, that’s not what the disorder exactly is. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder which involves extreme anxiety or fear about more than one of the following situations in which they may not be able to escape or get help if they begin to panic:

  • Public transport
  • Open space
  • Enclosed space (e.g. aeroplanes)
  • Being in a queue or a crowd
  • Being alone out of the house

Social Phobia:

This is an anxiety disorder I personally struggle with and is also very common. People with social anxiety disorder fear that they will behave in a way, or show anxiety symptoms (for example, blushing or sweating) that will cause embarrassment or humiliation.

Some activities which may be affected by social anxiety include things such as eating in front of others, asking for help in a shop, answering or making phone calls, public speaking or performing, meeting or talking to new people, or even being observed doing some kind of motor skill such as writing, running, or playing a sport. In some cases, it can cause extreme self-awareness resulting in the inability to perform behaviors naturally, which causes more anxiety.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

People often joke about OCD, but the reality is that the disorder severely impacts the lives of those who have it. The obsessions or compulsions that an individual has are time-consuming and interfere with their day-to-day functioning or cause them distress or harm.

Obsessions in OCD are intrusive thoughts or impulses that are unwanted and may be disturbing, out of character, against their wants or needs, and that the individual may or may not know are irrational or extreme. The intrusive thoughts may cause the person a lot of distress as, even if they know it is extreme, depending on the nature of their obsession, they can truly be fearful for the wellbeing of others, even that they may cause harm to their loved ones.

The anxiety caused by these thoughts can result in behaviors adopted in order to cope. These behaviors are called compulsions. The behaviors may be used to prevent anxiety or distress, reduce it, or prevent something terrible they believe may happen from occurring. They’re defined as repetitive physical or mental behaviors. The behavior may be not connected in any logical way, or they may be obviously excessive.



Anxiety disorders are more complex than they appear, and can really impact peoples lives. Encourage people who are suffering to get help, or seek help yourself if any of this sets off alarm bells for you. Anxiety doesn’t define who you are as a person, it isn’t an expression of who you are, but an expression of an affliction you have to deal with.






1. Martin, E. I., Ressler, K. J., Binder, E., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2009). The neurobiology of anxiety disorders: brain imaging, genetics, and psychoneuroendocrinology. Psychiatric Clinics, 32(3), 549-575.

2. Lydiard, R. B. (2003). The role of GABA in anxiety disorders. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 64, 21-27.

3. Nuss, P. (2015). Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 165.

4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

5. Verywellmind. What Happens to Your Body During a Panic Attack?

6. Thriveworks – Counseling and Coaching, (2017). Agoraphobia DSM-5, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment 300.22 (F40.00).

7. Social Anxiety Institute. DSM-5 Definition of Social Anxiety Disorder.

8. Beyond Clinical Definition of OCD.

The Wellth Self-Care Guide

Stress can be helpful in certain situations, it doesn’t exist without purpose. Stress can, however, become a bit too much and begin to feel overwhelming, so here are four proven strategies you can and should employ to keep yourself well.

Let’s begin this guide with a trusty cliche: life isn’t fair. From time to time, life throws you a curve-ball, no matter how hard you work or how good you’ve been, and it really is not fair. But it happens anyway. When you’re stressed, looking after yourself can fall to the bottom of your to-do list so it’s important to remember to keep your wellbeing a high priority, you’ll probably find that in doing so, your stressors will become easier to tackle.

Stress is the activation of your brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism. We need stress to help us react quickly to danger, and it can even be helpful to motivate you to complete your work to a deadline. However, stress can get too much and begin to feel overwhelming, so here are four proven strategies you can and should employ to keep yourself well.

1. Mindfulness

A lot of scientific research has gone into mindfulness and its ability to reduce stress through learning to calm your mind and body, similar to meditation. Its a technique taught to people suffering from chronic diseases, nurses, psychotherapists, councilors and health professionals who frequently deal with high volumes of work that can be distressing or emotionally taxing in nature. So don’t dismiss ‘mindfulness’ as mumbo-jumbo, it has been proven to reduce levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Keep in mind this is a strategy that’s best if you get some experience doing it and make it a regular thing. If you try it once and you don’t think it works don’t give up on it altogether. Heres how you can practice mindfulness yourself:

•    Take some time out to focus your mind on one thing. Here are some ideas to help you get the hang of it, focus on: how the sun feels on your skin,  the taste and smell of your food, your breathing, the tension in your muscles and relaxing them methodically, all the sounds in your environment. Direct all your attention to whatever it is, don’t try to multi-task, all you should be doing is relaxing and focusing your mind on the task at hand.

•    If you’re having trouble and find that your mind is wandering, that’s ok, don’t dwell on it, acknowledge it and direct your mind back to the target of your focus.

•    Since you’re doing this because you’re stressed, you may have some intrusive thoughts or feelings about the stressor. That’s ok too, acknowledge the feelings, allow yourself to feel the sensations of emotion, but guide your mind away from engaging in actual memories or thinking through the problem. If you notice this happening, you don’t need to get frustrated, just relax, acknowledge it, don’t judge your thoughts, and direct your mind back to your focus.

•    If you’re new to this, it’d be better to start with short periods to allow yourself to get the hang of it before increasing the amount of time you do it for. But remember that you can do this any time, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at your work desk.

•    Another mindfulness strategy is the ‘body-scan.’ From your toes to your head, pay attention to and notice how your whole body feels.

•    If you are someone who struggles with anxiety or frequent worry, give yourself a moment where you allow these thoughts to go through your mind, and try to acknowledge them and not engage with them or feel anything about them.

2. Exercise

Exercise as a stress reliever is a more well-known strategy, but I’d like to push the importance of it. Engage in a level of activity that challenges you and makes you feel good. Not only does a good workout release endorphins in your brain, you have also achieved something to be proud of which is a mood booster in itself. If the stressor you’re facing is a problem that needs fixing, exercise can help you think more clearly as it improves your cognition and increases your energy. Try just going for a walk, or practicing yoga in your room. If you need some motivation or inspiration head over to the Beginners Guide to Loving Fitness.

While getting active when you’re stressed will help you, regular exercise is important to help keep you in good spirits the rest of the time as well. Exercise is especially important and recommended by health professionals for those with anxiety and depression.

3. Social Support

A problem shared is a problem halved. Confide in someone you love, get some good advice and reassurance, allow someone to help you. Don’t bottle it up, nothing good ever comes from that. Sometimes someone else has a different perspective that will make you view your problem in a different way, or they may help you come up with a plan that helps you feel like you’ve regained control.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing whatever it is that’s getting you down or stressed, then even just reaching out to someone for some quality time can do you some good. Get your cuddle on, hugs reduce the stress hormone cortisol, so get amongst. Getting someone to give you a massage can be a good stress reliever as well. Stress leads to muscle tension, and massages release muscle tension and feel-good endorphins! So relax, and let your partner or bestie put in some elbow grease to work the stress out of you.

4. Time for Yourself

A good stress reliever can simply be doing something just for yourself. Treat yourself to some quality ‘me-time.’ A bit of a pamper or even just getting yourself organised can make you feel refreshed and set to take on the world again. Time for yourself can be anything you enjoy doing, here’s a quick list of self-care ideas straight from my own personal journal:

  • take a bath
  • listen to music
  • paint your nails
  • put on a face mask
  • light some candles and get some mood lighting going
  • watch a movie
  • bake your favourite treats
  • snuggle into fresh sheets
  • write a to-do list
  • clean your room
  • write in a journal
  • go outdoors
  • treat your body to some fruit and veggies
  • stay hydrated


When life gets you down or gets overwhelming, just remember, it’s not a bad life, just a bad moment. How many bad moments have you had that you completely forgot about because it got resolved or seems insignificant now? Remember that this too shall pass, and you will be able to say you conquered it. If bad things didn’t happen you wouldn’t appreciate the good. Feel the emotion and appreciate you’re experiencing the full human experience, you get to experience all the feelings that come with being alive, and that’s beautiful.





  1. WebMD, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – Topic Overview
  2. Anxiety and Depression Association America, Physical Activity Reduces Stress 
  3. Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010), Exploring self‐compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26: 359-371. doi:10.1002/smi.1305
  4. Khoury, Bassam & Sharma, Manoj & Rush, Sarah & Fournier, Claude. (2015). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Healthy Individuals: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009.
  5. Chiesa A, Serretti A (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5): 593-600.


Green Exercise

Low mood, high stress, low self-esteem. All bad for your wellbeing, and all unfortunately very common.

Succumbing to the pressure to conform when social media faces you with swathes of what it likes to think are ‘perfect people’ is easy. It is common to get sucked into trying to attain that ideal image and seeing yourself as less-than. Although it’s a positive and healthy change that ‘strong is sexy’ is in vogue for women’s bodies over the extreme thinness that was once strived for, feeling pressure to look a certain type of way is never healthy (for women or men). Feeling negatively about the way your body looks can be detrimental to your self-esteem. Working out is supposed to be rewarding, not a punishment, and you should be loving, not hating, your body at all stages of your fitness journey.

Feeling down and stressed can stem from many unavoidable aspects of life. Whether it be school, work, or relationship dramas, life doesn’t always go smoothly. Unfortunately for many, low mood and high stress can stick around longer than it should or feel to be permanent. Whatever the case is, there are things you can do to combat these feelings.

Working out, in general, makes you feel good (thank you, endorphins), and is obviously good for your health. A lot of us also spend the majority of our time cooped up indoors, and surrounded by an urban landscape, and then go to the gym to workout indoors as well. While this is still going to help you physically and mentally, there is more you can do to keep your body and mind in top shape.

Studies into ‘Green Exercise’ are showing that moving your workout into a natural environment can do more to relieve stress, improve mood, and boost self-esteem. Even a short period of exercise in a natural environment has a substantial effect. Whats more, the improvement in self-esteem was found to be even greater for those suffering from mental illness.

For those of you who turn to the gym to lift and run away from a negative body image, who could use a pick-me-up, or just generally want to reap the benefits, consider changing it up and take your dose of exercise somewhere beautiful outdoors. A workout away from the gym won’t ruin your gains, I promise.




1. Mackay, G. J., & Neill, J. T. (2010). The effect of “green exercise” on state anxiety and the role of exercise duration, intensity, and greenness: A quasi-experimental study. Psychology of sport and exercise, 11(3), 238-245.

2. Gladwell, V. F., Brown, D. K., Wood, C., Sandercock, G. R., & Barton, J. L. (2013). The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extreme physiology & medicine, 2(1), 3.

3. Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental science & technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.